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20-Minute Guided Meditations for Anxiety

Welcome to my guided meditation for anxiety – or should I say meditations! You’re about to learn two powerful practices that you can use whenever you’re experiencing anxiety, whether fleeting or persistent. This is not just a plaster or pill, but a new set of skills you can use for the rest of your life.

Meditation is demonstrably as effective as medication for anxiety and depression. Yet its mechanism of operation is in some ways diametrically opposed to that of medicine.

Having suffered mental health issues, I’m dumbfounded I was never taught these skills as part of my treatment. In my opinion, it’s impossible to truly overcome such problems unless you have a clear subjective picture both of them and of your role in perpetuating them. Pills and therapy might get you through a rough episode but they don’t equip you with lifelong skills for self-regulation.

I’ve taught my guided meditation for anxiety to my students, and I know it’s powerful for them.

Before you dive in, let’s look at what stress and anxiety are, and how to get the most from these meditations.

What Are Stress and Anxiety?

Collins dictionary says “If you feel under stress, you feel worried and tense because of difficulties in your life,” and defines anxiety as “a state of feeling very worried, and often shaking or feeling sick, as a result of mental illness or a bad experience.”

Stress and anxiety are both emotional states that develop in response to an objective situation that we perceive as unpleasant.

Stress often comes when we have a pending deadline we can’t meet, we have lots on our mind, or we feel that a situation is beyond our control. It’s a state of exasperation and overwhelm.

Anxiety is similar, but I associate it more with an unpleasant future event whose outcome we fear. We have a difficult exam coming up or a social event full of people we don’t know. It’s a state of exacerbated worry.

Though we can’t deny the challenges of life, we also must recognise that stress and anxiety aren’t set in stone. They often come less from the objective situation and more from our interpretations and our self-image.

The fact that the same event can be stress- and anxiety-provoking for one person while completely neutral for another is testament to this.

What’s more, we don’t have to be their victim. There are ways to optimally process them when they come up, and to prevent an objective situation triggering new bouts.

Guided Meditation for Anxiety: Crucial Tip

It’s crucial you take heed of this so that you can do the guided meditation for anxiety correctly. If you remember one thing from this article, remember this.

Don’t try to get rid of your anxiety.

It’s not only ineffective to try to get rid of it, it’s unnecessary. This advice sound ridiculous, until you realise that it’s crucial to cultivate non-resistance to do this guided meditation for anxiety effectively. This means we open up to everything we’re experiencing. We let it be. We let it come and go on its own accord, moment to moment to moment. This might sound weird, but this is the mindfulness paradigm.

Don’t mistake this for passive acceptance, ergo: “I’m anxious. I’ve always been anxious. I’ll never get better. I’m just going to wallow in my anxiety.” It’s not so much an intellectual opening up as a visceral one. You literally keep the body open and loose, and let all the thoughts and feelings come up without denial, repression or rejection.

You might suspect that guided meditation for anxiety works in the opposite way to how you expect. If so, you’re right!

The Medical Model: Find It, Fix It

I have to be careful not to reject medicine outright here. It has brought staggering improvements that we ought to fully understand and appreciate. That said, much of it is built on shaky ground, especially

Normally with our health issues, we take the perspective of “Symptoms are bad, a sign of dysfunction. This is a problem I must solve as soon as possible.”

And if you were to see a traditional doctor, they would likely share that perspective: “Your symptoms are a result of anxiety disorder. This is a problem to be solved. Our pill alters your neurochemistry so that your symptoms will weaken. If this happens, the medicine has been successful.”

Whether it’s you or the doctor, your model is the same (Find It, Fix It) and the attitude is the same (the body is an unruly organism prone to random quirks).

Yet the medicine doesn’t help you understand your anxiety whatsoever. All it does is produces temporary biological changes so that you can function day to day, almost like a plaster or cough syrup. That’s fine as a temporary intervention, but it doesn’t take you any closer to understanding yourself. It also imbibes you with the idea “I am anxious. I can’t function. This needs to be fixed.” And I know from first-hand experience that these ideas do nothing but entrench you further.

The Meditative Model

In meditation we adopt the opposite perspective. We practice being with our anxiety moment to moment, rather than finding a “treatment” “against” anything. Our standard medical language makes it difficult to effectively talk about meditation in a medical context without obscuring its essence.

Mindfulness is a clinical treatment, make no mistake, but it’s more accurate to say that we’re treating and upgrading our own perception and processing of anxiety, rather the anxiety itself.

We “treat” anxiety by finding it in the body – in our subjective experience, anxiety is a combination of thoughts, emotions and physical reactions – and bringing exquisite, non-judgemental awareness to it.

Though I encourage you to avoid trying to fix the anxiety, I also don’t want you to deny it. Just practice seeing it, experiencing it, as it is, for yourself, beyond your ideas about it.

If you don’t believe me, here’s John Kabat-Zinn talking about mindfulness in the context of depression treatment:

“Any change that may occur comes out of the rotation in consciousness that frequently stems from the shift from the doing mode to the being mode, rather than by intervening to fix a problem or bring about a specific outcome, as is so much the case in cognitive therapy.”

“mindfulness can and does lead over relatively short periods of time… to profound health outcomes for a wide range of people and problems”

John Kabat-Zinn

And this attitude is exactly what makes mindfulness effective for anxiety.

Guided Meditation for Anxiety #1: Mindfulness of Emotions

With emotions, we run the same three steps of mindful awareness, except we place our attention on the emotional areas on our body.

At any one time, we experience either a pleasant, unpleasant or neutral emotion, or the absence of emotion. Choose one, then run the three steps, using the label Feel for each.

To prepare you for bouts of stress and anxiety, I suggest you start by working predominantly with unpleasant feelings. However, working with positive emotions will increase the chances you’re aware of them during times when the negative dominates, which is another way of managing stress and anxiety.

Again, remember to keep your equanimity high. This is a key skill for transforming how you relate to your emotions.

Choose one of these meditation positions, make sure you’re in a distraction-free environment, and begin.

Guided Meditation for Anxiety #2: Mindfulness of Thought

In the second meditation, we practice watching thoughts as they are, without trying to change them. This is crucial if you want to be free of your anxiety and avoid perpetuating it. By seeing your thoughts clearly, you see your anxiety clearly.

This audio lasts 30 minutes, but if this seems a little long, I recommend you chop it to 20 minutes.

Guided Meditation for Anxiety: Thought and Emotion Together

Once you’ve become familiar with these two exercises, you can combine them into one by running cycles on both thought and emotion. If a mental image or sound or absence is most prominent, run a cycle on that. If an emotion or emotional absence is most prominent, run a cycle on that.

You can also bring mindful awareness to multiple experiences at once, using two or even three labels. For example, if you notice you have a feeling of sadness (Feel) and are commenting on it (Hear), bring both to the forefront of your attention, label “Hear Feel”, and pour your attention on to both.

Remember to start with 20 minutes per day if you’ve never meditated before.

Use Your Intel

I strongly encourage you to take advantage of your meditation-inspired findings to get a clearer picture of your overall character and why you suffer stress and anxiety.

Why do you suffer anxiety?

You might notice a tendency to catastrophise or exaggerate your issues, which shows up as rapid escalations of emotionally-charged and exaggerated thoughts.

You might notice you have certain addictions that contribute to your angst and dis-ease.

It might be because of your job, or financial situation, or family situation!

Or you might realise you have self-esteem issues. Whenever a challenging situation comes up in your life, you tend to get self-critical and believe that you’re incapable of finding the solution. This leads to stress- and anxiety-type states.

There are any number of insights you can glean from this work, and I want you to connect them with your past and your recurrent behaviour patterns.

Be prepared for the same patterns to repeat again and again during the same life situations. That’s what they do, and that’s what makes us who we are.

Once you have a clear picture of these patterns, you can then start to change them. But it all starts with the attitude of non-resistance and non-judgement, with clearly seeing these patterns as they are.

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